“We design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us.” -Anne-Marie Willis
There are these two wonderful clips from Jason Silva from Shots of Awe where he discusses this idea of ontological design. Which Google describes as “the design of a way of being – not just creating crutch of the mind but rather facilitating the evolution of human capability. Systems focused on facilitating situated human cognition while expanding.” Which, as a definition, probably does very little to providing us a deeper understanding of what ontological design is and why it may be important.
Whereas, Silva takes us a bit closer to understanding just what ontological design is and why it just may be an important concept for us to consider and understand. Silva talks about how “we build the tools and the tools build us.” Which harkens back to the opening quote from Ann-Marie Willits article on ontological design where she imparts that “everything we design, in turn designs us back.”
The implications of that, which Silva shares in Shots of Awe is that “we are being actively designed by that which we have designed.” He adds “our thoughts shape our spaces and our tools and our tools and spaces return the favor.” It is this active feedback loop that is not only transforming our world, but transforming us, and back again, over and over. As Silva shares, it is this idea of “circularity” that makes ontological design so important. For that which is not designed well…
Just consider this quote from Costica Bradatan, “Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place in turn occupies you. It’s culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being.”
So the more we think about this idea of ontological design, the more we see the importance of the spaces and things that we design…especially if they are designing us back. Poor design in turns provides poor systems and environments, often leading to frustration, disengagement and even dysfunction. Understanding this idea of ontological design and seeing its importance in our organizations may provide better reflection and insight into creating engagement in a world and workforce that has become more and more disengaged.
Especially in a time when we need to better ignite and extract the creative and innovative thinking and ideas of all our people. Maybe ontological design and reflecting on this loop of influence will provide us a more inviting path to creating the cultures and environments that engage and unleash the best of our people and our organizations.
“Our thoughts shape our spaces, we design the world, but those spaces return the favor.” -Steven Johnson via Jason Silva and Shots of Awe